PETALING JAYA: A former top Treasury official has shot down a proposal to list Petronas on Bursa Malaysia, saying the financial boost it could give the government would be temporary.
Ramon Navaratnam said the government should not give up “even a little” of the company for the private sector’s benefit.
“The injection of funds from the listing will be a one-off,” he told FMT. “After that, it is gone forever. Privatising Petronas, even 10% or 20% of it, will lead to an eventual takeover.”
Navaratnam, a previous deputy secretary-general of the Treasury, described Petronas as the Malaysian public’s “golden goose, the last bastion of integrity”.
He said it should be kept as a national entity because selling it would set a precedent for giving up top national enterprises.
On Tuesday, Subang MP Wong Chen suggested that the government conduct a feasibility study for an initial public offering of Petronas, saying that setting aside 20% of the company for the purpose would raise about RM300 billion and boost annual revenues by RM60 billion.
He said the listing would lead to better financial transparency and better governance for the company while improving the government’s finances.
The increase in profits would help bring down the nation’s debt to about 30% of the gross domestic product in 10 to 15 years, he added.
Navaratnam said that rather than list Petronas on Bursa Malaysia, the country could pare down its debt by reducing its development budget, especially “expensive politically motivated projects”.
Economist Barjoyai Bardai of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak also disagreed with Wong Chen’s proposal, saying the government’s debts were not as bad as perceived.
He said it was more important to bridge the widening gap between the rich and poor, and suggested that this be done through a restructuring of the economy.
Berjoyai said Petronas’ profits should be placed in an endowment fund similar to Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, which was established in 1990 to invest the surplus revenues of the country’s petroleum sector.
“Petronas should be locked from being sold to others and put under the purview of the endowment fund,” he said. “All the money Petronas makes should be parked there.”
Last July, then economic affairs minister Mustapa Mohamed told Parliament that Petronas had forecast it would be able to contribute between RM55 billion and RM59 billion to the federal government in 2022.
He said the sum included contributions in the form of dividends, corporate and petroleum taxes, windfall tax, petroleum cash payments and export duties.
Mustapa said Petronas had projected its total profit after tax for 2022 to be between RM75 billion and RM80 billion, assuming that Brent crude oil prices would remain at about US$100 per barrel and that production would not be interrupted.